Duke v Clemson

Monday’s Pregame Shootaround: Bedlam in Oklahoma after Duke visits Pitt

Leave a comment

GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 17 Duke at No. 18 Pitt, 7:00 p.m.

Like it or not, this is the ACC that we’re working with now: Pitt hosting Duke in a pivotal league battle. The Panthers have yet to beat an NCAA tournament caliber team, and their poor scheduling has left a team that, by most metrics, is really, really good sitting at 18th in the country. The Blue Devils have apparently righted the ship, shaking off whatever was ailing them — and Jabari Parker — while cruising to four straight wins. That, alone, makes this game important.

But there’s more at stake here. On Saturday, Duke heads up to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse. Pitt will host Virginia, who has quietly improved to 6-1 in league play, that same day. The Orange already are all alone in first place in the ACC. A loss from Pitt would drop them two games off the pace. If Duke loses tonight, they’d be heading to the Dome to avoid falling four games behind the Orange.

Suffice to say, this is one of the most important weeks of ACC basketball this season.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 23 Oklahoma, 9:00 p.m.


It’s been a decade since the Cowboys have won in Norman. Marcus Smart and company will look to change that, but Travis Ford’s all-american point guard will need to play much smarter than he did on Saturday, when his emotions got the best of him and almost cost Oklahoma State the win. The Sooners have won three in a row and can score with the best of them, but this is not a team known for their defense. What’s fun about this matchup is that both teams play small and spread the floor.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 9 Villanova at Georgetown, 9:00 p.m.

Villanova bounced back from a drubbing they took at the hands of Creighton to knock off Marquette in Milwaukee on Saturday. Georgetown, on the other hand, is in a tailspin. Josh Smith is done for the year due to academic issues. They’ve lost four games in a row and currently sit at 3-5 in league play and 11-8 overall. They have chances — two games against Villanova, a visit from Creighton and a game on Saturday against Michigan State — to turn things around, but this is a two-man team that is overmatched by everyone in the paint.


1) You mean beyond that juicy goodness above?

2) A couple of interesting battles atop the MEAC tonight, as 5-1 Savannah State hosts 5-2 Norfolk State while 4-1 Morgan State squares off with 4-1 North Carolina Central.

3) There is some action in the SWAC as well, as Alcorn State squares off with Southern.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.